Run for your Life

“Sporting é merda!” I do not remember why my friend shouted this insult at the small renault that passed us that night. What I do remember is the car screeching to a halt and four, impossibly large men jumping out. For those of you unfamiliar with European football (soccer), Sporting is a Portuguese team based in Lisbon. I spent my high school years in Portugal, just outside the capital city, and my friends and I were (are) all avid Benfica fans (a rival team in the area). A little context never hurts a good story.

There were at least four of us out that night but this is years before I began martial arts and, as a group, we were not cut out for a fight. So, we chose another option; we ran. Really ran! The men started to give chase but decided to use their car instead. The time it took them to turn around and drive after us gave us a decent head start. Finally, exhausted, we ducked into a driveway, climbed a wall and got out of sight in the nick of time. Beat down averted.

Of course, it could have gone very differently and it almost did. Some of us were not very fast. Some of us were not very good climbers. And if we had been cornered in the that driveway, we would have had little choice but to fight after tiring ourselves running away.

Now let me be clear. I stand behind “running away,” and I think most martial artists would agree. If you have the opportunity to extricate yourself from a situation without fighting, that is always a wise choice. Sometimes circumstances prevent leaving a situation. Possibly you are protecting others. Possibly you have been cornered. Possibly you are incapable of running. But a real fight has too many variables for you to accurately predict the outcome. Leaving, if you can, usually improves your odds of not getting hurt.

But what if you run 5 city blocks (1/2 mile) and your attackers chase and corner you at the end of that sprint? Now you are facing the same fight after exhausting yourself running. Are your odds better or worse? The answer to that question depends on how you train.

Many karate men and women talk about finishing fights with a single, powerful punch, kick, or other strong technique. They rarely train for a long and extended fight. In the world of mixed martial arts, boxing, and other sport fighting, training to go multiple rounds is necessary. If you didn’t get knocked out or choked out, you keep going. Endurance training, in sport, is a must.

For the purposes of life protection, I think both groups have it a little bit right and a little bit wrong, so let me suggest a third way. Train for the quick fight, in which you dominate and control the situation as fast as possible and don’t let up until you know you and yours are safe. But focus on making your techniques as effortless as possible. The less you have to rely on strength, the less the lack of it will let you down. Effortless techniques are relaxed and loose. They make use of the whole body and not just specific muscle groups. These techniques flow, one to the next and entail smart targeting to vulnerable areas. They are sometimes simple and sometimes complicated but always natural. These are techniques worth developing because they should be functional no matter how far you ran, or how tired your muscles are.

But don’t stop there. Take a page from the sport fighters and make some endurance training a part of your life. Go to the gym, get on a treadmill, walk and run and make sure your heart and your lungs can handle some exertion. Learn to control your breathing. You don’t have to train for a battle of endurance but, no matter how relaxed your techniques are, some level of stamina can only be seen as smart preparation.

Relying on strength is a young person’s game. As we age, and our muscle mass changes, we are going to have to have to rely more and more on good technique. It is never too early to start thinking this way. Because, no matter how young you are, run 5-10 blocks for your life and you are going to be feeling pretty old at the end. And that might just be where the real fight begins.

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